By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Bosnian-born U.S. citizen accused of plotting to bomb New York City subways was "ready and willing to sacrifice himself to kill" at the command of al Qaeda, a prosecutor said on Thursday in his closing statements.
Assistant U.S. attorney Berit Berger told jurors that Adis Medunjanin, 28, was committed to carrying out a suicide attack on American soil, a mission given to him by al Qaeda operatives he met in Pakistan.
"What he was willing to do was to strap a suicide bomb to himself, walk into a New York City subway and blow it up," Berger said at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York.
Medunjanin, a U.S. citizen born in Bosnia, was accused as the third member of a plot to bomb the subways in 2009. His high school friends Zarein Ahmedzay, 27, and Najibullah Zazi, 27, both pleaded guilty to planning the attacks with him and are cooperating with the government.
A jury is expected to begin deliberations on Monday to decide whether to convict Medunjanin of the nine counts against him, including providing material support to and receiving training from al Qaeda; conspiring to commit coordinated suicide attacks on the subways in 2009, and crashing his car on a highway in a last-ditch effort to complete his suicide mission in January 2010.
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The judge allowed the jurors to remain anonymous for their safety.
Medunjanin's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, in his closing statement conceded that Medunjanin traveled to Pakistan in 2008 in an attempt to join the Taliban and seek vengeance for perceived wrongs against Muslims. But while Medunjanin was under the sway of al Qaeda propaganda, he never intended to follow through with his friends' plan, Gottlieb told jurors.
"Adis' intent was to fight and protect Muslims," Gottlieb said. "That was the extent of his formulated intent and plan in his own mind."
SWEARING AN OATH
Last week, jurors heard testimony from Ahmedzay, a U.S. citizen from Afghanistan, and Zazi, a legal U.S. resident also from Afghanistan, who said the three friends swore an "oath" at a local Queens mosque to travel to Afghanistan to wage "violent jihad."
They testified about traveling with Medunjanin to Pakistan in August 2008, where they met with an al Qaeda recruiter who took them to a training compound in Waziristan, a lawless region in northwest Pakistan.
They said senior al Qaeda operatives persuaded them to switch their mission from jihad in Afghanistan to a "martyrdom operation" in New York on targets selected to inflict maximum "economic" damage. At the training camp, they learned about different weapons, Zazi and Ahmedzay testified.
During his closing argument, Gottlieb cast doubt on whether the three men's training was serious or simply an attempt by al Qaeda operatives to impress them.
"It's almost like those men who travel off to the Mets or Yankees fantasy training camp each winter," Gottlieb said. "Are they really receiving baseball training, or are they experiencing what it would have been like?"
When reuniting in New York after January 2009, they scouted potential targets and began constructing explosives for suicide vests, prosecutors said. Medunjanin remained committed to following through with the attack until September 10, when Zazi and Ahmedzay, suspecting they were under federal surveillance, told him they were pulling the plug on the plan, prosecutors said.
With Zazi in jail and federal agents on his tail, Medunjanin made one final attempt at a suicide mission on January 7, hours after the FBI executed a search warrant at his house, prosecutors said. In lieu of a martyrdom video, he called 911 and shouted "We love death" — a phrase associated with al Qaeda suicide bombers — moments before crashing his car on the Whitestone Expressway, prosecutors said.
Medunjanin never took the stand during the trial.
(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Philip Barbara)